Eyes On The Prize

STEVE MCDOWELL takes the plunge and opts for corrective Laser Eye Surgery

I WRITE this with apologies to the excellent offices of JH Steward (Bisley) – the opticians in whose very capable hands my shooting eyes have been for some years.

But not any more. The short sightedness and the astigmatism that afflicted my vision have gone – eliminated by Laser Eye Surgery.

I’ve always had a hate/hate relationship with contact lenses. Ever since giving up cricket a couple of years ago – due to encroaching age and back problems – I’ve worn them only very occasionally. As such I was never very experienced, and never got used to plunging my finger into my eye, in the bleary mornings. Besides, firing prone means looking out of the very top of your eye and I found sometimes the lenses would get moved down while in the aim every time I blinked.

Though I had been toying with the idea of corrective surgery for some time, it was this year’s Imperial Meeting that made me do it. Or rather, it was the weather at the Imperial Meeting that made me do it: rainstorms of biblical proportions hammered the event from day one. The first shoot – the Admiral Hutton – was cancelled for the first time in anyone’s memory.

After being rained on for a fifth successive day, I lay face-down on the 1,000yd firing point adjusting my shooting glasses. My waterproofs were all over the place; water was dripping down my neck; the wind was blowing rain into my shooting box; and my glasses steamed up (again) as I tried to wipe the rain off them (again) with a cloth which was wetter than the lens itself. In the end I just took them off, and threw them in a huff into my shooting box.

Conniving with the kind shooter to my right, who agreed to spot for me, I could still barely see if the target, half-obscured by low cloud by the look of it, was up or down. I locked my position rigidly, and gripped my Gemini so I could be sure I was pointing at target 23. I could not even see the colours of the target boards, never mind the numbers.

In the end, it was something of a miracle that the shoppers of Guildford were not endangered. But I got through, not only without a miss, but with a 45.2 – and only one magpie.

Pretty good, I thought. But it was time, finally, to bite the bullet.

Less Invasive

And so it was I found myself, before an array of incredible machinery, in the stylishly appointed London Vision Clinic, just off Harley Street. For three hours my eyes were tested in every conceivable way by every conceivable machine. I met three experts, who guided me through the process. Hallelujah: I was suitable for the LASIK surgery, the less invasive and easier-to-recover-from of the two available forms.

In an age where corrective Laser Eye Surgery has reached the high street for less than the price of an exotic holiday, this treatment cost ¬£4,200. Professor Dan Rienstein, the American-born surgeon who runs the clinic, is proud of the price tag. “Would you buy a discount parachute?” he asks. “These are your eyes we’re talking about.”

Rienstein’s qualifications are too long to list, but most of those who are turned away by mainstream clinics are accepted and successfully treated by the London Vision Clinic. He even tackles referrals from the capital’s famous Moorefields Eye Hospital.

Age; severity of vision defects; and even underlying disorders like diabetes, which other clinics will refuse to treat, are usually embraced by Rienstein. “You manage the condition at the same time. Where’s the problem?” he offers.

My vision was not that bad: an easily manageable -1.75 dioptres in each eye (bad enough to fail a driving test), plus the astigmatism that, uncorrected, made the target appear almond-shaped through my sights.

More than one surgeon, however, had turned Jasmine, the young woman in front of me, away, at -12 in each eye.

The procedure itself isn’t like any surgery you might imagine. A completely sterile environment isn’t necessary, because there is almost no invasion. A small flap is cut in the cornea, and the laser, which appears simply as a flashing light, is programmed to vaporise a tiny slither before the flap is replaced. It takes 10 minutes, and heals in a few hours.

I have endured much more unpleasant fillings. Within moments I was sitting up, cheerfully reading the eye-card better than I had been ten minutes before. There was some redness and soreness overnight, and I was given a large collection of eye drops – antibiotic and moisturising – to use several times a day for a week. But within a day or two my eyesight was extraordinary.

I can now stand in my first-floor office and read the number plates of the cars zooming by. I can see clearly and absolutely: it’s magic. No more specs.

Indeed, a month later I was re-tested and my eyesight, at 20/12.5, is 40% better than 20/20 – which is enough to be a fighter pilot, never mind a motorist. The clinic claims the vast majority of its short-sighted clients end up with better than 20/20 vision. Young

Jasmine, meanwhile, was so delighted with the results she looked like she had just been released from solitary confinement. Her mum shed tears of joy. There was only one thing left for me: another trip to Bisley.

I Can See Clearly Now

I entered a long-range competition. The format was two sighters and 10 to count at 900yd and 1,000yd. The first time I gazed into the rear sight I found I could close down the aperture even further. The foresight looked as clear as a lighthouse, and I could even read the target number through the foresight. Blimey! I shot badly (91.6ex-100.10), but that’s largely because of the excitement and the fact that my 0.3-dioptre

Eagle Eye was knocked about by the muzzle blast. I know: take it off. No problem: I can see like an eagle with a microscope.

I talk to GB shooter Belinda Moore. An infinitely better shot than me, she reveals that with eyesight three times worse than me she went through a similar procedure just before the Meeting. I am disappointed: I’ll never catch her now.

“I’m bionic,” she says, “but I didn’t win anything.” Then she makes the point that might, just might, prove interesting: “Are we cheating?”

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